Fauber: Mason is reason to watch Jayhawks

I haven’t been watching as much college basketball as I usually do, which isn’t all that surprising considering the fact that the only team I really care about — Virginia Tech — is having yet another bad season. It’s really hard to watch a team that simply isn’t very good.

But when I have tuned in to watch some college hoops this season, I have found myself searching for a team that I previously had absolutely zero interest in during years past. That team would be the Kansas Jayhawks, and my sudden infatuation with Rock Chalk is not as random as you might think.

I’ve been keeping tabs on the Jayhawks this year for one reason — freshman guard Frank Mason.

You guys remember Mason, right? For those who don’t, he’s the talented 5-foot-11 guard from Petersburg who led the state in scoring his junior and senior seasons (2010-11, 2011-12), and finished his high school career with 1,901 total points. That number ranks Mason second in Petersburg High School history, behind NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone.

Following his outstanding high school career, Mason — who initially signed to play at Towson — played a season of prep basketball right here in the Shenandoah Valley, at Massanutten (Military) Academy, last season. There, Mason helped guide a Massanutten team loaded with Division I talent to the National Prep Championship Elite Eight, where the Colonels fell in overtime to Notre Dame Academy.

Massanutten Academy spent most of the 2012-13 season ranked as the top postgrad team in the country, and Mason used the increased exposure to achieve a four-star recruit ranking (he was rated the No. 76 overall player in the 2013 class by Rivals.com and the No. 17 point guard). That led to an offer from head coach Bill Self at Kansas, which Mason eagerly accepted.

And that’s where Mason finds himself now — at one of the most prestigious men’s college basketball programs in the country. And he’s playing quite well, actually.

Though he is currently in the shadow of other talented Kansas freshmen like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Mason has emerged as a solid sixth man for the Jayhawks this season. He has played in all 18 of Kansas’ games (he’s started three of them) and is averaging 18.6 minutes per contest. In the time that Mason has seen on the floor, he is averaging 6.9 points per game and he’s currently second on the team with 46 assists (fellow guard Naadir Tharpe leads Kansas with 86 assists). Mason also has tallied 12 steals, tied for fourth on team.

I never got the chance to see Mason play in person (Massanutten Academy rarely plays its postgrad games close enough to home) but I did talk to him a few times during his season at Massanutten Academy, and I have made a point to watch him whenever I see the Jayhawks on TV this college season.

I’ve gotten to see a handful of Kansas games so far this winter, most recently on Monday night as the eighth-ranked Jayhawks hosted No. 24 Baylor. Mason came off the bench early in the Jayhawks’ 78-68 win, and he appeared to give Kansas a jolt with his energetic play.

Mason scored his first points of the night when he somehow converted a highly contested driving shot shortly after coming into the game, and he went on to score nine points. He also finished with a team-high six assists, including a beautiful alley-oop pass to Embiid on a fast-break late in the first half.

Mason drew plenty of praise from ESPN’s Brent Musburger — who was calling the game that night — and the longtime commentator said at one point that Self has been extremely impressed with Mason’s play so far this season.

That’s good news for Mason, and good news for any college basketball fan in the area like me who is looking for something to root for this season and for several years to come.

NOTE: Mason’s former teammate at Massanutten Academy, Q.J. Peterson (Hedgesville, W.Va.), is finding his own success at Virginia Military Institute this season. Peterson, a 6-foot guard, is leading the Keydets (10-9, 3-2 Big South) with a 20.3 points per game scoring average, a mark that also ranks him 23rd in Division I. Peterson also has a team-high 41 steals so far, which ranks him 26th in the nation.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD